Gen Z’s Rules for the Social Fab 4

Posted by: Jeff Fromm

As mentioned in our last post, Gen Z has formed an etiquette that governs individual social media platforms. Using social media, it turns out, is not a free-for-all. In focus groups we conducted for our Gen Z research study, we worked with teens to learn why they use various social media accounts and what they use them for, focusing on the Fab 4: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat.

Here’s what we found.


Contrary to popular belief, Facebook is not dead among Pivotals. Yes, their use of Facebook is declining, but it is still the most used social media platform with 77 percent of teens saying they use it on a regular basis (although 87 percent of Millennials use the platform regularly). But notice we say used rather than engaged. There’s a difference.

With the primary demographic of Facebook aging (thanks, Mom and Dad…oh, and Grandma), teens today are less likely to be actively engaged with the platform’s shared content. Originally, Facebook was the engagement tool. Now, teens are more likely to use Facebook as a passive tool or a jumping off point. They scroll rather than post. This is turning Facebook into more of an informational hub and less of a networking platform.

But that doesn’t mean brands should ignore Facebook when it comes to interacting with Pivotals. If done correctly and with a bit of creativity, it still has the potential to capture their attention. For example, Playland at the PNE, a Canadian amusement park, gave eight teenagers free passes under the condition that Facebook fans could control the experience of those in the “hot seat.” Fans at home dictated the rides ridden, games played and even food eaten by the contestants, who wore GoPro cameras to broadcast their experiences. The video content engaged more than 28,000 Gen Zers on Facebook in real time.


Twitter has a reputation for being the “be on” platform. Often used for real-time marketing, Twitter is where teens go to get information now, as the life expectancy of a tweet (even when it has been retweeted) is no more than 18 minutes. And Pivotals like it this way, as they lead Twitter usage at 45 percent compared to 34 percent for Millennials and Gen X and just 13 percent for Boomers.

When 16-year-old Carter Wilkerson tweeted Wendy’s asking them how many retweets it would take to get free chicken nuggets for life, the fast food chain responded, “18 million.” Wilkerson accepted the challenge and began soliciting retweets with the hashtag #NuggetsforCarter. It blew up. Even big-name celebs and corporations like Ellen DeGeneres, Amazon and Microsoft promoted the tweet, encouraging their own followers to support the movement. After the tweet became the most retweeted in the history of the platform, Wendy’s gave Wilkerson his lifetime access to free nuggets and donated $100,000 to a fundraiser of his choice.

Wendy’s, by simply engaging with a consumer on social media, received widespread positive media coverage. As the fast food chain has been widely recognized for their snarky, clever Twitter usage over the years, the interactions from them felt completely on-brand and resonated with the Gen Z audience.


Per our research, Pivotals lead Instagram usage at 63 percent, compared to a surprisingly low 47 percent of Millennials. Instagram is where teens go to be inspired. They spend time editing their images and creating the most aspirational versions of themselves. They are very careful about how they use their Instagram accounts.

When it comes to posting, Gen Zers want to be sure they are not clogging their friends’ feeds with low-quality images (that’s what Snapchat is for). They also regularly delete their Instagram photos so their profiles rarely have more than a handful at any given time; this is intended to optimize the number of likes per photo.

Teens may also have what they refer to as a “Finstagram.” This is a fake Instagram page that is used for a different purpose than their personal account. Whereas their personal account is presenting the best version of themselves and shared with their contacts at large, their Finstagram is selectively shared with only certain individuals and tends to be more authentic and intimate. In other words, it’s more real.

While good for brands to be aware of, Finstagrams aren’t the way to go for corporate accounts. If looking into brands on Instagram, Gen Z wants to be inspired. And if this means edited images and a set aesthetic, so be it.


Given Pivotals desire for personal connectivity – wanting to actually see their friends as they talk online – Snapchat has become their go-to app. Snapchat allows manually selected recipients (or manually built groups of recipients) a peek into their personal reality, rather than sharing a picture-perfect and manipulated moment. Considering this, it comes as no surprise that Gen Zers far and away lead Snapchat usage at 61 percent (Millennials come in at 34 percent and Gen X and Boomers are barely a blip on the Snapchat radar).

According to the teens we interviewed, this platform is the perfect way to let people know what they’re doing in the moment. Being mobile-first, Gen Z also prefers Snapchat because it was built for mobile (and Instagram, too), meaning the user experience is cleaner, more useful and easier to navigate. As such, Snapchat is very quickly replacing texting as a means of communication for this cohort.

Moving forward, it will be critical for marketing teams to fully understand both the purpose and pitfalls of each social platform. They will then need to make strategic choices based on what Pivotals expect from each one. A one-size-fits-all approach won’t work. To win with Pivotals through social, brands need to fit seamlessly in their lives, provide a utility or solve a problem.

Want more on Gen Z? Get Jeff Fromm & Angie Read’s new book, Marketing to Gen Z, here!

This post was updated on March 20th, 2022.

About Jeff Fromm

Although not a Millennial as defined by his age, Jeff Fromm is the Millennial Marketing Guy. Jeff is President of FutureCast, a marketing consultancy that specializes in Millennial trends, and is a contributing writer at...See Jeff's full bio.